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CCCI: China Dreams: Of Realizing Filiality Through Story and Object

The Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Lecture Series, featuring interdisciplinary talks by scholars on issues in China today, runs every Monday this semester. This talk will be presented by Professor Angela Zito, Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University.

October 3, 2016 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Xi Jinping introduced the China Dream campaign in a museum, and in the past several years, “cultural museums” (wenhua bowuguan) have spring up all over China.  Often they are local cultural showcases for products like tea, bamboo, or regional wine. In Guyi Township, Qionglai City, west of Chengdu in Sichuan, the Museum of Modern Filial Culture opened in November of 2014, showcasing the culture of filiality through 28 living examples.

Dedicated to “model” people, people whom one should imitate toward ethical perfection of the self, the Museum does its work through stories, photos and especially objects. Key to its success is its capture of the liveness of filial actors—their stories in text, their images in photographs and the material relics of their practice that index bodily presence and debt. The possibility of the imitation they might incite in an intermedial, increasingly digital world is what the state seeks and that, it is hoped, filial children might provide, especially for elder healthcare as an issue of emotional value and political sentiment.  The Guyi museum’s innovation lies in its collection of objects from filial achievers—things actually used in their practice of service to parents such as carrying cloths, motorcycles, worn out shoes.  They are lovingly displayed in glass vitrines—like holy relics or ancient artifacts. How do bodies, things, and images such as these circulate in an intermedial incitement of memory and remembrance?  How does these tales of filial heroism compare with the older stories that are their model?  What does it tell us about how propaganda functions in relation to everyday life? And about how these old Maolist tactics revived in service of highly melodramatic narratives of self-sacrifice might be now linked to the imperial past?

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